PURCEVILLE, Va. (BP)—Parents across the U.S. and in many foreign countries are exploring homeschooling their children for the first time this fall as schools navigate reopening amid COVID-19 dangers and uncertainties.

Christian groups and churches are among those preparing parents to meet the challenge and to navigate homeschooling regulations that not only vary among the states, but are changing amid the pandemic.

Membership in the Home School Legal Defense Association, a Christian group working to train and equip homeschooling parents in the U.S. and abroad, is growing at 300 percent of its pre-COVID-19 growth rate, Home School Legal Defense Association senior counsel Mike Donnelly said, adding that the group has about 100,000 member families, compared to 80,000 before the pandemic.

“We are seeing unprecedented interest in homeschooling and it’s clearly a consequence of the plans that public schools are issuing for the return,” said Donnelly, himself a homeschooling parent. “We are seeing just dramatic numbers of people contacting us, asking questions about how to get started homeschooling. Our membership numbers are growing at record levels.

“And we are not the only people seeing this. I’ve been in contact with a number of curriculum providers who have told me that they are selling out of some of their curriculum, that their sales are up 50 to 100 percent. And so it appears that there are millions of people who are looking at homeschooling now, that never have before.”

The women’s ministry at Huntsville, Ala., Willowbrook, received so much interest from its members that it hosted a how-to homeschooling workshop Aug. 15.

Women’s ministry leader Bobi Ann Allen said many parents among the church’s 5,000 members are exploring homeschooling because schools are not certain how to reopen safely during the pandemic.

“We have women who were homeschooling long before the pandemic,” Allen said. “But there is a new wave of moms… and families… who are choosing homeschooling for their family. And because we saw the need arising at a larger number, we saw this as a need that we could step in and help meet.”

The church consulted and tapped veteran homeschool moms within the congregation in organizing the “Help, I’m a Homeschool Mom” conference, which was limited to 40 onsite attendees to comply with COVID-19 safety guidelines. Video recordings will be provided to other interested parents. Allen hopes to foster community among homeschoolers and to encourage, equip and empower parents to homeschool.

Interest in homeschooling is surging across the U.S. and in some foreign countries. Before the pandemic, 1.7 million 5- to 17-year-olds, or 3.3 percent of the age group, were homeschooled in the U.S. as recently as 2016, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

The Associated Press reported a 75 percent increase in homeschool applications to the Vermont Agency of Education, a 21 percent increase in applications in Nebraska, and an increase in homeschool applications in North Carolina that overwhelmed a government website in July.

Donnelly, who serves as director of global outreach for the Home School Legal Defense Association, said he has heard similar news from dozens of education organizations and from many countries including Portugal, Uganda, South Africa.

Donnelly said homeschooling can be a safe, effective and low-cost educational option for parents. He and his wife Patricia have homeschooled their seven children over the past 20 years. Two have graduated college, one is a college senior, and the youngest four—ages 9 to 17—and still being homeschooled.

While states are changing their regulations during the pandemic, Donnelly said homeschooling is flexible and provides a personal approach that leads to better outcomes for students.

“Homeschooling does not require 100 percent hands-on parental involvement all the time. People have this idea that it’s school at home, but that’s not what homeschooling is,” he said. “The parents are working more as guides, providing the curriculum, providing the direction and answering questions, providing oversight.”

Even single-parent families or those with both parents employed fulltime outside the home can manage to homeschool, utilizing such resources as homeschool co-ops, relatives and neighbors, or allowing older children to study at home alone.

“The laws do not require that you homeschool between 8 and 3. You can homeschool early in the morning. You can homeschool in the evening. You can make up for work on the weekend,” he said. “No state requires any particular schedule. Even if they require a certain number of days and hours, there’s no requirement that they be continuous or during particular parts of the day.”

The Home School Legal Defense Association has created the resource website, www.youcanhomeschool.com, and is hosting a series of free virtual workshops. The latest in the series is the 45-minute “You Can Homeschool Through High School!” launched at 5 p.m. CDT Aug. 18. A session on homeschooling children with special needs airs Aug. 20 at 5 p.m.

Parents can homeschool their children, on average, at a cost of $600 to $1,000 a year and sometimes less, Donnelly said. He said homeschooled students often enjoy a better education than students in corporate school settings, regardless of the parents’ educational attainment.

“If you look at the research on public education, you’ll find that there’s very little correlation between an individual teacher’s certification level and education level, and the outcome of students in their classroom,” he said. “The same is true in the homeschooling environment.

“… A parent who has a PhD versus a parent who has a high school diploma, they’re going to produce an average homeschool kid. Average homeschool kids score, on academic and standardized achievement tests, very well, much higher than private and public school students.”